Survivor: who is the greatest player of all time?
Yesterday I explained why I think Survivor is the ultimate game. Today I want to talk about the players – and to solicit your opinion on the subject.
On the reunion show the other night the question was quickly raised: does this victory make Sandra Diaz-Twine the greatest player ever? Sandra says yes. Russell Hantz says that if Sandra can win the game twice then the game itself is flawed.
Maybe he’s right, or maybe she is, or maybe they’re both wrong. It’s certainly a good topic for sparking arguments. As I noted yesterday, the game beats anything we’ve ever seen for complexity. It’s part physical challenge, part endurance/attrition marathon, part strategic duel and part cocktail party. And being the best player in the game at all these dimensions doesn’t even assure victory.
With this in mind, who’s the greatest ever? Here are your candidates (and we’ll begin with the assumption that you can’t be the greatest ever if you didn’t win).
- Pros: Not only won the first season, but more than any player since he defined the game. Every winner since has worked, to some degree, from the playbook that Hatch wrote.
- Cons: Went out early in Survivor All-Stars, although it has to be said that he entered the game with a huge bullseye on his back as a result of being the legend of the game.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Outback.
- Cons: Weak player in every respect. Rode Colby’s coattails the entire way. Didn’t so much win as she had Colby hand her the victory (in a move that was selected as one of the dumbest in Survivor history). First player voted out in All Stars.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Africa, which remains perhaps the most grueling physical test in the history of the game. Played the ultimate white knight game, proved that you could win without slitting throats along the way.
- Cons: Ummm, can’t think of any.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Marquesas
- Cons: It’s hard to say exactly how she won it. No observable talents. Her victory remains one of the two or three most disappointing moments in the history of the game.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Thailand.
- Cons: Having a hard time remembering who he is.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Amazon. Withdrew from All Stars to be with her mother, who was dying of cancer. Was the first player to succeed with a “pretty girl” game, although her social skills transcended her looks.
- Cons: Well, we were sitting around after she won going “wait – what just happened?” But that may be a pro instead of a con.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Pearl Islands and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. Undefeated – played twice and won twice. Only two-time winner.
- Cons: Personifies what some feel is wrong with the game: in two games she never won a challenge, physical, mental, endurance or otherwise. Lack of charisma makes it impossible to argue that she’s a great social player. Hyena-like strategy mainly involves staying out of reach until the enemy is distracted and hoping that she’s in the finals before a jury that hates the other finalists more than they hate her. Really, she’s been the ultimate sneaky, under-the-radar player. Supporters will contend that this reveals the genius of the game. Others will look at the results and change the channel.
- Pros: Won Survivor: All-Stars
- Cons: For the most part, rode Boston Rob’s coattails. His strategy at the end was a queenmaker play – he seemed to know that he couldn’t win, but he was in love, planned to ask her to marry him, and saw her win as his own victory.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Vanuatu. Executed the single most amazing come-from-behind run in Survivor history – at one point he was the only man left, surrounded by what looked like an airtight six-woman alliance.
- Cons: Often seemed less like a man in control of his destiny and more like the lucky beneficiary of a battle royale where the rest of the contestants were worried about everyone except him. Can be argued that he won by default.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Palau. The second great white knight champion – a monster in challenges who pulled all but one of the jury votes. One of the most popular champions ever.
- Cons: Found himself struggling from the outset in Heroes vs. Villains. Wasn’t good enough either socially, strategically or physically to save himself.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Guatemala. Credited with one of the game’s best strategic moves ever.
- Cons: Not a terribly distinguished season.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Exile Island.
- Cons: Forgettable game, forgettable champ.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Cook Islands. Very smart player. Apparently regarded as “one of the top 10 Heroes of Survivor” by Jeff Probst.
- Cons: None, really. Would have been good to see him in Heroes vs. Villains.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Fiji. Jury vote was unanimous.
- Cons: None.
- Won: Survivor: China
- Cons: None to speak of. Not the most memorable of games, though.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Micronesia (Fans vs. Favorites). Finalist in Heroes vs. Villains, top five in Cook Islands. Holds distinction of playing the game for the longest amount of time. Regarded as a supreme social and strategic player.
- Cons: Refusal or inability to derail Russell in Heroes vs. Villains probably cost her the game.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Gabon. SurvivorWiki calls him “clever and likeable,” which is two understatements for the price of one. Won the fan-voted “Player of the Season” award.
- Cons: None.
- Pros: Won Survivor: Tocantins. Never had a vote cast against him, won unanimous jury vote. Strong three-tool player (physical, social, strategic). Won the fan-voted “Player of the Season” award.
- Cons: Massive screw-ups in Heroes vs. Villains tarnish the legacy?
- Pros: Won Survivor: Samoa.
- Cons: It’s hard to figure out how she won – along with Vecepia, the weakest and most disappointing winners in Survivor history. We’d almost have preferred to see Russell win.
My vote? This is tough. I mean, don’t hate the player, hate the game and all, but Sandra’s two wins have me saying “how?” instead of “undefeated makes you the best.” Parvati’s win and her extremely strong showing in two losses mark her as one of the very strongest players ever – and it wasn’t all social, either. The only player to win more Survivor challenges than her is Colby.
Hatch defined the game, and if every single one of his opponents on All Stars hadn’t shown up with “get rid of Hatch” at the top of their to-do lists, you wonder how much damage he could have done there.
In the end, Sandra strikes me as the Survivor equivalent to Robert Horry, who won six NBA titles. But he was never the guy – he was deadly in the clutch, but he was always coming off the bench. You can’t take the rings away, but he wasn’t Michael Jordan, either.
Which leaves us with the icon, Richard Hatch, who was sort of like James Naismith and Michael Jordan all rolled into one. If Babe ruth had invented baseball and then been its iconic player, Hatch would be the Babe Ruth of Survivor.
But that’s just what I think. Your turn.
Thanks to SurvivorWiki, which was the source of my chronology here.